Food for the Spirit and the Soul

Because the diverse parts of human nature need to be nourished in different ways.

About


21 comments

By “Spirit” I mean that portion of ourselves which drives us to the heights; it is focused, disciplined, and single-minded in pursuit of its goals; it seeks “peak” experiences and has little patience with anything that compromises its quests and schedules. By “Soul” I mean that part of ourselves which seeks always to enjoy the moment fully; it is interested in almost everything, nonchalant in its commitments, indifferent to time, and more than willing to take detours; it revels in the loveliness of life’s lowland meadows, and in its relaxed sojourn through time and space, it wholeheartedly endorses the opinion of John Keats that this world is a “vale of soul-making.”

The problem facing every man and woman is that these two expressions of our humanity are frequently in conflict or, at least, in tension, each one, like rival siblings, demanding our full attention, and so much of our life is spent in what can seem like a perpetual tug-of-war with ourselves. An attendant dilemma is that when individuals are too deeply in thrall to either of what might be considered inner voices, they can be difficult to live with. When governed unduly by Spirit, we can become strident, tactless, and intolerant. When too much influenced by Soul, we can become moody, petty, and distracted. Uninformed by Soul, Spirit tempts us to reside at altitudes which can not, finally, sustain a life that is either meaningful or humane; conversely, unleavened by Spirit, Soul can bog down in trivia and never undertake worthy enterprises. Thus, if both Spirit and Soul are not in some measure complemented by each other, they risk falling into the miasma of narcissism and thereby losing contact with the wider world.

This dichotomy of Spirit and Soul is something neither abstract nor strange. Here is an imaginative exercise that should be familiar in character to nearly everyone. See yourself driving westward through Kansas on Interstate 70. You are under Spirit’s implacable suzerainty if you check your car’s cruise control every five minutes to be certain that you are going exactly 70 miles per hour, cursing aloud both the dullards who are going 68 and the irresponsible twits who are doing 72, while telling your children that, despite the urgency of their needs, consequent to the irrevocable demands of a rigid timetable, you cannot possibly permit them a restroom stop for another fifty-eight miles, lest you arrive in Boulder, Colorado ten minutes late. In contrast, you are attending to Soul’s seductive pleadings if, after seeing a sign that you have noticed but dismissed on many previous trips, you suddenly think that it might be a good idea to exit the Interstate and take a look at the world’s largest prairie dog.

What is true within ourselves is, of course, true in the public realm. We have all met people whose lives are too much governed by either Spirit or Soul, and I will provide two light-hearted examples. I ask you to recall that avatar of the Spirit, your old high school gym teacher, Coach Krag: “All right, people; drop to the floor and give me twenty. And I don’t want to see any slackers! You can fail this class, you know.” You must have equally pleasant recollections from your time spent with the very embodiment of things Soulful, your dear eighth grade art teacher, Miss Twiddledee: “Sorry I’m late again, children, but I just could not find my keys. Now let’s continue working on whatever it was that we were doing yesterday, and can someone tell me where I’ve put my grade book?”

On this web site I am going to attempt to nourish or, at least, to interest, both Spirit and Soul. Sometimes it is possible to satisfy both of their demands at once, and in support of this contention, I will again ask you to undertake an imaginative exercise. Picture yourself hiking amidst the Himalayas, with the physical rigors of the trek demanding your full attention. Staring fixedly at the trail rising to meet the snow-capped peaks ahead, you casually lower your eyes and find that you are walking on a carpet of small, variously-colored flowers. This unexpected discovery brings you to a pensive standstill, as you contemplate anew the fragile beauty of the world in its manifold expressions and textures and feel a neglected inner horizon suddenly expand boundlessly. In that moment, what had been essentially an athletic experience was suddenly deepened and complicated by an aesthetic one. This is but one example of the potential for mutually-enriching dialogue between Spirit and Soul.

In truth, nearly every moment is capable of providing us with this two-fold sustenance, for when Spirit and Soul, like a couple long-married, learn to cease their bickering and respond to each other’s differences respectfully, a pleasant harmony then governs their relations, a tacit accord in which each member of their inseparable team provides the other with balance and ballast. Thus, guided by what might be called cooperative criticism, Spirit and Soul find that many hitherto undreamt of ventures suddenly become plausible.

While this conversation between two parts of our nature is what I will encourage and seek to sustain on this blog, I also hope, my dear readers, that it will instigate a discussion between us. I’ll keep posting articles, and should you like – or dislike – any of them, I would appreciate your taking the time to write a response, however brief. In short, I’d like you to keep me informed about your journey though this world, and I, in turn, will keep you apprised of mine.

Robert Neralich

  

21 Replies

  1. madelinehoran

    Dr. Neralich, thank you very much for spending the time to put up this website. I especially enjoyed this “about” section, of course, that explained what would usually be impossible to explain without your eloquence or good command of the English language. Presently I am at St Olaf in Minnesota, where the bitter cold has arrived in negative degree temperatures. I think you would be very satisfied with this school. Despite the fact that it is a Lutheran school, I have not yet been pestered with any sort of evangelism familiar to me in the South. In fact, the book you once recommended, “God is Not Great”, was actually on display in the library. Also, there is a lack of emphasis on sports. They do not award athletic scholarships, although you may participate if you would like. Contrary to the University of Arkansas, it is the music, particularly the choir, that determines the class schedules. I have not yet seen any drinking aside from a drunk person stumbling in the hall, granted I am in Ellingson, the “study dorm” full of Great Conversation participants. Most people just want to learn here and I actually feel very dumb in my classes, particularly Japanese. Yes, as a result of your inspirations, I am working my ass off in Japanese class. Hoogenboom Sensee is very hard and I spend several hours a day studying. I get tutored at every opportunity and have never tried so hard to make a “B” in all of my life, but I admit that I am learning a lot. In fact, my father is encouraging me to take Japanese not for the required three semesters but for all four years, as to him it is a “ticket to employability” and to me it is a topic of great interest. I plan on doing the Asian Conversation next year and probably major in Asian Studies in addition to my English major. I want to do the English major and hopefully go to graduate school for that somehow, not only to hopefully get into the world of an English professor or a librarian but particularly to study F Scott Fitzgerald, an author who I am hopelessly obsessed with at this point and have more books ON him than he has written thus far. For interim, I am taking Modern British Novel and 2nd semester I will take English 185 (the beginning of an English major), The Bible as Literature, Japanese, and Asian Philosophy, the latter two which have definitely happened partly from your influence. Sometimes people such as my mother have criticized me for not doing anything they deem useful, but I have kept your words to heart and ignored the temptations to leap into something that would promise more money, whether it be transferring to a state university that is much cheaper or majoring in something like business. As you can tell, your inspiration has gripped well beyond the moments in your classroom and for that I am forever thankful.
    -Madeline Horan

  2. Madeline:
    I thank you for your comment; please keep visiting the site, since I will be adding new postings constantly, and many of them will remind you of Asian Studies class.
    Neralich

  3. halley.mayo

    Dr. Neralich,

    I am currently in New York, New York and find solace from the hectic and mean city in my memories of our trip. I look forward to reading more entries on your site – they will surely lift my spirits as reminiscing does.

    I have never been to Kansas and therefore cannot complete your survey. If the state is anything like the half of the City in Missouri… well… I’d have to say [vote redacted].

    All the best,
    Halley Mayo

  4. MattWeidner

    Dear Dr. Neralich,

    I think you’ll be happy to know that, upon discovering this blog of yours, my “soul” seized control of my being, successfully distracting me from my duties as a life guard for a full 20 minutes. Needless to say, I’m ecstatic to once again have access to your enlightening and eloquent train of thought, although I think that I should point out that This is only possible through something that I recall you criticizing countless times throughout the school year, that being computers.

    Unfortunately, my phone is about to lose it’s remaining battery power, so I will quickly say that I have taken a year off as planned, in order to attend Colorado college in the spring of next year. The program that you signed the recommendation form for (the one to Vietnam) fell through, unfortunately, and I have been through several applications for several programs since then. I finally settled on a language immersion course In japan, during which I will study everything Japanese and teach English voluntarily. It departs January 2nd, so I’m glad that I was able to establish a link of communication with you beforehand. I may pester you with questions, or ask for advice over the coming months, so be forewarned.
    Well, I suppose I’ll begrudgingly return to my work. “spirit” is calling. I am impressed with your blog, and I hope that there will be many more entries to come.
    Best regards,

    – Matt Weidner

  5. trippstill

    Hey Doc!
    I was thrilled when I heard you put up a website! It made me think of all the good times I had during the TWO hours i spent in your class every day in high school. I was sad to hear you wouldn’t be teaching at FHS anymore. My brother is a senior this year and I hoped he could endure the same torture you put me through!!!!! haha
    Thought I’d take a second to let you know what I’m doing. I moved down to Little Rock and am finishing up my first semester of medical school at UAMS. I like school more than the city, so I guess it’s a bit of a trade off. But anyway, thanks for giving me something to read that isn’t in latin and something I won’t be tested over!!! Keep writing!

    Tripp

  6. MCowan

    Dr. Neralich,

    I can not explain how happy I was to stumble onto your site. I miss, more than I can explain, your insight into the world. I have yet to meet anyone who is as enlightening and insightful as you are. You have been one of the few people that has opened my eyes to the world. With all of this said, I am very sad that you are not at FHS anymore. I have a younger brother that is a sophomore this year and know that your class would have given him the kick in the ass that he needs.

    I know that I came to talk to you last year about attending Duke, well, I changed my mind. 😀 I’ve decided I’d rather do something more productive, for a bit at least. I’m going to Oxford this summer to take a few theory and culture courses. I plan to travel a lot more after graduation which was half inspired by your graduation speech that encouraged travel. I’d also like to do the teach for America program but we’ll see. I feel like I need to find my own way in life, and as you’ve said many times, find a way that isn’t decided by someone else so that’s what I’m doing.

    It makes me very happy to have something to read that doesn’t have to do with politics and school work-something insightful and so much like Asian Studies. Keep up the writing.

    Hope all is well,
    Megan

  7. bdixon

    Greetings, Dr. Neralich!

    I’m still writing from dear old Fayetteville, but not for long. I have finished up all aspects of my high school education ( I still had a few credits to finish up before officially graduating) and have been working all fall. Although it has been great to put some work experience on my resume and meet new people, my true adventure is starting with the new year. I am traveling to Sweden, Germany, the Czech Republic, and Zambia to visit friends, then starting my study of oceanography at the Australian National University. I’d like to echo the thanks of others in referring to your communication with your old students and friends. You have obviously made quite an impact on our lives. Thanks again, and best wishes.

    Bronwyn

  8. MBettencourt

    Dr. Neralich,

    I was simply ecstatic when hearing the news about your website. Interestingly enough Test and I were discussing you yesterday, we both miss your influence terribly. I am in the middle of trying desperately to decide on a major, the decision is now between anthropology and art history. I want to major in so many things that I fear that I may be in college forever. I would also just like you to know that I now compare all my professors to you, and they have all failed with flying colors. Therefore not only will I be in college for eternity but I will never experience another amazing teacher, this I blame on you. I look forward to reading your posts and getting that influence form you once more.

    Thank you and best wishes,
    Melissa Bettencourt

  9. Lyssalou

    Dr. Neralich,
    I was so happy to see that you had a website. I loved your letter to Santa but I’m not sure that he will give you what you want. After all Christmas is about giving not receiving. I look forward to reading more on this site I hope that you will post often. I am in school still to become a teacher and maybe eventually a librarian but that is only if I ever make it out of college because its taking forever. I hope that you are doing well and I hope to see you. Good luck with the Santa situation.
    Thanks for being awesome,
    Alyssa Luper

  10. KRamsey

    Neralich,
    Mrs. Buff told me you had a new site and I didn’t believe it at first. I’m thrilled to see that it’s true. I thought I would never have any way of communication with you again. Good to see that you’re still the same guy. I hope all is well with you. Everything is great on my end of the stick. I’m attending NWACC and loving it so far. Not sure of a major yet really, but we’ll see as I progress. I went to an Ecology camp over the summer. It’s amazing. Audubon is the name and I plan to work there every year that I can. Anyways, again I hope you’re enjoying yourself and life. Hope to see more soon.
    Keep going strong,
    Kylee Ramsey

  11. veronica kennedy

    Dr. Neralich,
    Well, what can I say? I was browsing Facebook today, when I cam across your fan page. I just had to say hello. You were an amazing teacher, as well as an inspiration to many. I will NEVER forget you, I hope you never forget me;-) Feel free to email me if you ever get a chance. vron2112@yahoo.com Take care of yourself!

  12. LaurenWhitmore

    Dr. Neralich,

    I have survived my first semester at Hendrix. Well, I guess “survived” suggests that I had a really hard time of it this past semester, but to be quite honest, it was refreshing and incredibly fun. In my required freshman course called Journeys, we studied Confucius, Plato, and Socrates, which of course reminded me of you, and the wonderful class that you taught at FHS. I wanted to take an Asian Studies course this semester, but since there were some scheduling errors, I am now taking a religion and violence course, which is extremely fascinating.
    I’m deeply disappointed that I did not see you over the break, and I was wondering how long you were going to stay in the Northwest Arkansas region, because I would like to visit you before you start your new adventure somewhere that is not close. Are you still planning a trip overseas? If so, please let me know, I would be more than interested in accompanying you on a voyage and scaring off any people that seem dangerous. I cut off eleven inches of my hair, but what is left is still ghastly and frightening.
    Speaking of which, I recently went on a trip with my father and brother to Moscow and St. Petersburg. It was an amazing trip, and I learned much about Russia that I had either forgotten, or never known. What I saw when I went to the Romanov winter palace shocked me beyond belief though. We were touring through the rooms when I spotted a nine foot mosaic of none other than Medusa, and I automatically thought of you. I had a good laugh and took a photo while the rest of the party stared at me blankly. I think that St. Petersburg might now be one of my favorite cities that I’ve ever been to.
    Oh Dr. Neralich, I still miss you saying crazy things about me to other people, and then having them come up to me to tell me what you said in a state of shock; as if I had no idea that you called me the same things outside of class as you did while I was still around. Every time I see a picture of Kali, I still get excited and say to my friends, “Hey! That’s me!”
    I hope that you read these (I suppose that you do). If you do, you can e-mail me back at WhitmoreLM@hendrix.edu. I would really appreciate hearing about all of the happenings in your life.

    I miss you,
    Lauren Whitmore

  13. anallbr

    Dr. Neralich-
    It is the infamous better Allbritton… Nicole! How are you? I hope everything is going well in your life and you are enjoying it thoroughly! I was on my facebook page and discovered you had created this website. It is truly amazing and am very impressed.
    I have been meaning to contact you because I am currently in graduate school at the UA studying history and have a stong passion for asian studies.
    I must tell you, although it has been almost 6 years since I took your class, it was one of the most interesting and unique classes I have ever taken. I was sad to hear of you leaving FHS but am thankful that my sister encouraged me to take part in your class while in high school.
    Again, I hope everything is going well for you and life is treating you well!

    Nicole Allbritton

  14. dagleave

    Hello, David Gleave here. Thank you, Sir, for your teachings and the immense India journey we went on in Ladakh. It is easy to bring myself up in hard times just revisiting memories of the trek and how, as we climb one hill, there is another waiting for us! And I have posted on the wall of this house a picture I took of the Taj Mahal. I look at it before I leave to give me more optimism than what I wake up with (Not any). For so sadly, no truer words has been spoken than the words of George Carlin when he said, “there’s no planning for a crappy day”. But here is to you, Dr. Neralich, for the good memories of mine like visiting the Taj Mahal, photographing the sheep herders of Leh, and the swift conversation we had at the top of that pass while in exhaustion of the trek as I asked about your water supply, “Is that tea?” and you replied, “It’s wet”. As Cicero said it best, “it was for madness such as this that nature created you, your own desire trained you, and fortune preserved you”! Yes, Sir, I took that wildly out of context and gave it a new emphasis and we might as well change “madness” for “soundness”. Good day!
    My email: dagleave@gmail.com

  15. cynipid

    Dr. Neralich,

    What can I say? Has it truly been nearly five years since I’ve heard from you? I must say I’m in debt to Jon for reconnecting us and turning me on to your new website. It brings me a great sense of relief to find you not as an angry curmudgeon sipping cheap wine in a dingy room but still actively pursuing and promoting things that any sanely educated human would find important. When I heard what FHS was doing to what could be considered the only important instructors they employed, I feared the worst. Thankfully, it seems as though you persist without hinderance.

    There isn’t much to say about myself as I have been happily pursuing a middle-way style of living. Since the 2004 trip to Asia, I’ve also travelled to Holland for an incredible week of debauchery. One I’m certain you would have appreciated. As for the path that lies in front of me, I hope to be an advocate for the things I’ve learned in the places I’ve been, because what else can one do in life?

    Finally, I would feel like an ass if I didn’t thank you for the way you’ve helped shape the life I live today. It sounds cliché to me to say “you changed my life,” but I would be a dishonest fool to deny that fact. No one else in the world has taken me further in the world, and that is quite literally true. Thank you again.

    -Jeremy Lerz.

    P.S. please e-mail me sometime. I would be very happy to stay in contact with you, and I also have many pictures you could add to your site. cynipid@gmail.com

  16. noahc

    Hi, Dr. Neralich!

    You’d remember me as Sara Meeks; suffice to say much has changed. I was really excited when my mom told me about this site. I still consider you one of the most influential teachers I ever had. I can recall in full technicolor certain points you made in class that I found meaningful, and it’s thanks to you that I first learned of the Tao Te Ching, which continues to inform my thinking and be something of a spiritual oasis for me. I’ve always aspired to… well, not “be more like you” (that might be kinda scary for both of us, huh?), but to have your ability to speak with balance and clarity on complex issues, at the very least. I look forward to reading more of your posts. On the chance that WordPress doesn’t share my email with you, it’s ncmeeks at gmail (please forgive my spambot paranoia).

    -Noah C. Meeks

  17. Nick Graeber

    Now this is truely refreshing. It is almost like its 2005 and I am sitting in Asian Studies Class learning things that have helped me be “controversial”.

    By the way… how about them Lions…

  18. reminis_555

    Greetings Dr. Neralich!

    This is Jon Jackson, older brother of Eric Jackson, a student who vigorously attended your class his senior, and your retiring year. We have not spoken in a long time, and I fear I never spoke with you enough. I absolutely can’t get enough of this website. In text alone, I feel like I am listening to the REAL “Words of Wisdom” that you admitted us everyday in your class.

    But, to get down to business as they say, I have something to ask. Maybe a couple of things. I’m not sure as of right this moment. We’ll see where we end up.

    Just as a bit of background, I attend the U of A. Learning is my comfort zone now more than it has ever been, but I can’t say that every teacher here is top notch
    as you well know. Moving on…

    I have developed a passion for India. One that I feel has always waited beneath the surface, and it has consumed me so much within the past few months that all I can think of is getting there. I’ve begun any and all attempts to teach myself Hindi. This is my goal of goals. I wish to be in India and to absorb as much of what it has to offer as humanly possible; the food, the music, the language, the script, the essence, the soul.

    Questions:

    1. Any advice on locations that are impassable, or locations that are irresistible?

    2. Any definite “Don’ts?” “Do’s?”

    3. Any other suggestions? Tips?

    Thank you for all the knowledge from then to now. I finally discovered what a treasure the power of reading can be, and have strongly taken to diving into the words on the page as regularly as possible. I want to attain the highest sense of myself so that I may help others to do the same some day. The last thing you said to me was, “You will do great things.” I hope you were right Sir. Thank you for taking the time to read this.

    Sincerely and Forever Controversially,

    Jon Jackson
    Class of 2006

  19. joehill

    if i could live in this website, i would probably enjoy myself for at least two weeks before hating my life again. glad to see that you’re still doing something to convert american humanity

  20. lizzycamp

    hello neralich,

    I am reading your website in new zealand. You may or may not remember me, but i sure as hell remember you. Hope all is well with you and that you are still the great cynic i remember.

    would love to keep in contact, i see that you haven’t been on this website in quite some time. give me an e-mail and we can arrange some sauvignon blanc to be delivered!

    -Lizzy Campbell
    kerikeri, New Zealand

  21. OnTheWingsOfAnEagle

    Hey Dr. Neralich. I’m Kyle Smiley from your 04-05 Asian Studies class. If the ginger-curly hair doesn’t seem familiar, I’m the one in the Ladakh video that falls in the tributary and drops his boots. Ha! Classic fatty-has-a-fall. But enough chit-chat. I just wanted to thank you again for helping me reach a world I would have never known. I still study Buddhism, and I’m grazing the surface of Taoism. And let me tell you something, Robert–sorry, Dr. Neralich. That northern Indian culture made a lot more sense to me than the one I’m immersed in now. Nonetheless, I am immersed and, therefore, am very glad to have found your website. I also have to tell you I will miss your lectures, haikus, commentary on contemporary film, sexist but satisfying slurs, recanted sexist comments by direct observation of female power throughout history, and highly ridiculed “controversial” graduation eulogies–sorry, speeches. I have taken each of those messages to heart, and I still know the difference between tourists and travelers, and I know I have to be unafraid to be controversial.
    I made this longer and more poetic than I meant it to be. Take one message from it. I hope you are well.
    Kyle Smiley
    Oh, and what the hell. flumpmonkey@yahoo.com
    Shoot me back if you have time.


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